No Fans?

Fanless football. If you would have told me a year ago that I would watch a Sunday afternoon football game where the Falcons would play in Mercedes Benz stadium with no fans in the seats, I would have told you you’re crazy. Turns out you’re not crazy. Well, you didn’t tell me that a year ago because you weren’t crazy a year ago (Maybe I’m crazy for wasting my time watching the Falcons loose yet again). No fans at the game makes for strange television. When the cameras pulled away from the field to show the empty stadium, I was a little stunned. I’d been hearing the crowd noise. As a matter of fact, the crowd was so loud that I couldn’t hear the announcers very well. Turns out, the crowd noise was a recording. Someone even had the crowd boo at one point.

Hebrews 12:1 tells us that the stadium in which we live our lives is not empty. It says we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” It’s like the saints of the past are cheering us on, and it’s not a recording. I don’t think that passage means that the saints from the past are watching us from heaven, however. It’s more likely that God is reminding us that the witness of the past saints is louder than a recording to urge us to faithfulness as we serve the Lord.

It’s easy during difficult times to stumble or even get a little disillusioned. Don’t! The witness of the crowd is getting louder in the midst of persecution and difficulty. Stay the course! Run the race! Live out your faith loudly even though our secular society is saying we should be seen and not heard. One day when we cross the finish line, we’ll hear our Heavenly Father say, “Well done!”

The Real Problem…

We’ve never seen anything like it! I could be addressing the global pandemic, political polarization, racial tension, unfettered anarchy, spiritual apathy, antagonism toward the church and Christianity, or a number of other topics. Everyone has opinions about how to solve our problems, but the source of our trouble goes deep—real deep.

The real problem is a spiritual one! The only thing that will change people’s hearts is the Heart Changer—Jesus Christ. It must start with the church, however. I don’t think there are too many Christians out pillaging the land in the name of social reform, but a lot of Christians have hidden, or not so hidden, prejudice in their hearts toward other races. A lot of us struggle with political hatred toward people in a party different than the one with which we most closely associate. We need a sweeping movement of God, and it has to start with the church.

Second Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” I hate to say it but the fault of spiritual deprivation in our land falls squarely on followers of Jesus because we haven’t been following Him quite as we should. For many years, we haven’t been the salt and the light Jesus called us to be, and we are now reaping the consequences of our negligence. As we prepare to celebrate our country’s birthday, let’s celebrate it on our knees. Let’s get our hearts right first as followers of Jesus and then pray for our land. Let’s put some feet to our prayers and repentance and work to build relationships with people who are not like us in some way, and let’s openly share the wonderful message of the gospel with people who are hungry for real change. Our country is dying to know Jesus.

15 Days of Faith – Day 1

We are living in unprecedented times. You may have seen President Trump’s press conference yesterday or heard of the suggestions coming from his task force dealing with the spread of the Covid-19 virus. They are asking all Americans to make some dramatic changes for the next 15 days in order to curb the effect and spread of this virus. 

I know that reports over the last week or so have spread great fear across our country. If you don’t know someone who has been infected with the virus now, you possibly will in the future. Some patients are in serious condition. I know of a woman in her 30’s on a ventilator right now. This threat is serious. It would be easy for us to be filled with fear right now, but God wants us to choose faith.

Over the next 15 days, I’m going to share thoughts of encouragement and challenge us to embrace faith. I encourage you to share your comments and help me spread a message of hope.

The Bible has a lot to say about faith. The book of Galatians says we are justified by faith and we are to live by faith. Think about those two ideas. Your sins cannot be forgiven and you cannot enjoy a right relationship with God without placing your faith and your trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Secondly, as a Christian, your life should be defined by faith. It would do us well during these times to think about what it means to live by faith. It means that our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional strength comes from the Lord. It means that every step we take, we do so because we are fully trusting in Jesus.

I’ve got a song on my mind, and it would do us well to allow it to be the theme song of this coronavirus season. It was written around 1880 after Louisa Stead experienced a personal tragedy that could have destroyed her. Louisa, her husband, and her 4-year-old daughter were on a picnic near sea. They heard shouts for help and saw a boy struggling in the ocean. Louisa’s husband raced into the ocean to save the boy only to be pulled under and drowned. She grieved over the loss of her husband. After struggling with  sorrow asking God, “Why?” many times, she eventually penned the words to this beloved hymn:

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

I shared a video on YouTube with additional thoughts for today. You can view it by clicking this link.

What the World Needs Now

“There is no remedy for love but to love more.” – Henry David Thoreau

I’ve gone through a gamut of emotions while following the political activities of the last months, and even years. I suppose our national problem was never clearer than during the State of the Union address this past week. Regardless of your political position, the great divide we’re experiencing should be alarming. We now live in a time when political rivalry has turned into political hatred.

Whatever happened to loving your enemies and turning the other cheek? I wonder when we set aside “doing unto others as we’d have them do unto us?” 

We need a good ol’ fashion dose of love. The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins, and frankly, I think there’s a lot of sins in Washington that need covering right now. It doesn’t stop in Washington, however. This great divide has spanned the country, and the two sides aren’t just political. The fact is that although I can pray for our political and societal leaders, I can’t change them; only God can. I can, however, change myself.

I can’t make Trump love Pelosi or Schumer have lunch with McConnell, but I can reach out to someone who has different opinions from myself and seek to love him or her in “action and in truth.” Jesus did say, after all, that the world will know that we are authentic followers of Christ by the way we love each other. I don’t think there’s a greater way to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit than to love someone that is not like me. Although Washington needs a good dose of love, most of us don’t live there. We need to start a movement right where we are—a love movement. I know from experience that when love and hate get in a competition, love always wins. I’m tired of the politics I’ve been watching displayed on TV. Let’s start something refreshing. 

Things You Should Know if you Live in the South

I’m currently preaching a series on the Sermon on the Mount called “Essentials.” In my opening comments from last Sunday, I shared a few essential things someone should know if they’re going to live in the south. Here’s my list:

  • You should know the difference between poison ivy & kudzu.
  • You should know the best place to go to get sweet tea (when you don’t want to make it yourself.)
  • You should know that real men eat grits.
  • You should know that if you’re going to put something in grits, it should either be your spoon or shrimp.
  • You should know that you don’t have a hissy fit. You pitch one.
  • You should know that if it snows, don’t put chains on your tires. Stay home.
  • You should know that Sunday is for church, but Saturday is for football.

What would you add to the list?

Cry for Hope

“That’s depressing.” Have you ever said those two words? I’ve watched U.S. politics lately and found myself frustrated, angry, and discouraged. I may have even said that certain events or reactions have been “depressing.” As we move toward what seems like an all-out war between presidential candidates, I find myself shaking my head and dreading the next year. While events may get me down, am I really depressed?

Over seven percent of American adults will experience depression this year and fifteen percent will struggle with depression at some point in their lives. Over three million young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen have experienced at least one depressive episode this year. Sadly, I think we’ll see these numbers growing in the years to come. Why? Why are we struggling with depression as a culture?

Depression can come from a variety of places in a person’s life. It may result from chemical imbalances, physical or emotional trauma, or cultural challenges. Regardless of its source, depression is both promoted by and fed from feelings of hopelessness. While counselors can offer several solutions, one key solution is hope. I’m so grateful for gifted therapists and counselors, and I am most grateful for the God of all hope.

The great news I have is that we find hope in Jesus Christ. God spoke words of encouragement to a troubled nation in Jeremiah 29:11. These words also have great application to us today: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Do you struggle with depression today? As you reach out for hope, I encourage you to reach out to God. He will walk with you through your darkness to help you find the brightness of His presence.

What Happened to Honesty?

Why is it that when we see blatant honesty, we’re surprised? I passed this sign in front of a BBQ restaurant near Dahlonega, Georgia last week and was immediately a fan of the restaurant—even before I ate the food. After eating it, I’m really a fan. I love the fact that this restaurant owner expects an award but is free to let the world know that they haven’t received one yet.

What happened to honesty? Why are lies and deceit so commonplace in our society that we give awards to those who are able to pull off the biggest lies (the Pinocchio Awards)? God says, “The Lord detest lying lips, but He delights in those who tell the truth” (Proverbs 12:22). “Detest” is a strong word. In my book, Wisdom Speaks: Life Lessons from Proverbs, I wrote a section about this word as it relates to honesty:

To say that something is an abominationto the Lord is to say that an act is detestable to God. It is a strong statement pointing to something as disgusting or repugnant. We might say that something makes us sickto our stomachs. It is interesting to scan through the pages of Scripture to note what God says is an abomination. If we have never struggled with homosexuality, we may put that at the top of the list because it is mentioned several times. For starters, God doesn’t have a top-of-the-list category. Any sexual sin is an abomination to God.

Sexual sin is not the only disgusting act to our Creator. God gives us a list of other sins that He considers abominable:

There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him. Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. A heart that devises wicked plans feet that run rapidly to evil. A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.—Proverbs 6:16-19

Notice that a lying tongue made it to number two on the list of abominable deeds. Isn’t that interesting? Someone lies to us about a political matter, and we shake our heads and give him four Pinocchios. God, on the other hand, sees it as an abomination. We make light of something that God obviously deems as quite serious.

We’re smack in the middle of a political season, and we’re going to be inundated with false statements and people being accused of making false statements. It’s easy for us to be critical of those politicians. The fact is, however, that we can’t change politicians, but we can change ourselves. Regardless of how many Pinocchios someone might get from a speech next week or next month, we should opt for honesty.

Proverbs also tells us that righteous lips are a delight and the integrity of the upright will guide them. Proverbs 10:9 says, “He who walks in integrity walks securely.” As we anticipate hateful words and falsehoods that are sure to be a part of the next election cycle, let’s commit ourselves to walk securely and be a delight because we delight in telling the truth.

Only God

I spent a few days fishing this week with my father and brothers in Alaska. What an unbelievably beautiful place! Upon getting back to our vacation rental after the second day of fishing, I noticed that my face was red. Why wouldn’t it be red? I’d spent two days in the sun and strong winds. I had covered my head and ears but failed to put sunscreen on my face. Naturally, I didn’t realize my error until after two days of neglect. Sunburn or windburn is a slow process. We don’t realize it’s happening until after the damage is done.

We’re seeing a slow burn take place in our country. We’re all still shocked and heartbroken that someone could go into a Walmart in El Paso or to an entertainment district in Dayton to kill people. We mourn the loss of at least thirty-one people in this insanity and many more are suffering from wounds. During the same weekend, fifty-three people were shot in Chicago, seven killed. Who knows how many other atrocities happened last weekend?

I’m also stunned at the stupidity and selfishness of politicians. It’s shocking to see political candidates immediately use these events in an attempt to gain an edge in the election. It’s mind blowing to hear news reporters lay the blame for this shooting on the President. We’re also hearing that it’s the fault of the NRA. Really? Can these political leaders and news reporters not recognize the slow burn of a nation who has neglected the importance of fearing God and strengthening families?

As the fabric of our society comes apart, we should go backward in our history and find the things that have been washing away our foundation. We kicked God out of the schools in the 60’s. We devalued life with the passage of Roe vs. Wade in the 70’s. In the 80’s, we experienced continued growth in greed, rampant narcissism, increase in divorces and single-parent homes, and the promotion of free and safe sex. I could go on and on about the growth of immorality at every level, the continued destabilization of the home, the normalization of same-sex marriages, and the total disregard for honesty and truth. We removed the Bible from our public places, mocked prayer and the truth of Scripture, and openly persecute Christians for demonstrating their faith. The spiritual decline in our nation is significant.

Our decline has been slow and gradual. When immorality becomes a civil right and righteousness can no longer be defined by a society that has no moral bearing, our country is in trouble. We really can’t even call something evil because our society has determined that all truth is relative. Evil and moral relativity cannot coexist.Should we be surprised at mass shootings? Can our country back away from the edge of the abyss?

The problem is that immorality has been accepted, and broken has become the new normal. The only thing that can save us is a sweeping, spiritual revival. Immorality, broken governmental systems, and unstable families do not naturally reverse themselves. God can restore America, but only God can do it. Pray for America. Pray for your family. Pray for our leaders. Pray for our churches. Pray for God to help you strengthen your own home and order your own steps. Only God is a healer, and only God can heal broken people.

Exclusive Gospel – Is Jesus Really The Only Way to Salvation?

I preached the sixth message today in a seven-sermon-series on the seven I Am statements of Jesus in John (You can hear them on our church website, though today’s probably won’t be up until maybe Wednesday: http://www.sonrisebaptist.org/sermon-archive/) . Today’s focal passage was John 14:6: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” 

If you have studied the “I Am” passages of John, you know that the Greek text used for each statement is an emphatic, exclusive statement. To say otherwise is to ignore the Greek language and the construction of the text. You should translate any of these “I Am” passages as emphatic: “I myself am.” It’s as if Jesus was saying in John 6:35, for example, “I am and only I am the bread of life.” In John 14:6, Jesus underscored the exclusivity of the Gospel and the way to salvation with his follow-up statement as well: “No one comes to the Father but through me.” The two little Greek words translated as “but” are the two words “if not.” That part of the verse could be translated, “No one comes to the Father if not through me.”

I’ve had conversations with some people lately who struggle with an exclusive Gospel. In other words, they think Christians are narrow, bigoted, and arrogant for saying that salvation or eternal life is only possible through Jesus. Much of the world wants to embrace a universal message of salvation that says, “All roads lead to God. It doesn’t really matter which road you choose.” Do all roads really lead to God? 

Christianity says that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again. Islam says that Jesus didn’t die for the sins of the world, but rather, someone died in his place. Both positions can’t be true. Either Christianity or Islam is right, not both. You see, truth by definition is exclusive.

Christians are criticized for being exclusive, but if you think about it, if someone says the Bible is false, he is making an exclusive statement. He is saying that he is right and everyone who believes the Bible is wrong. For example, Hindus teach we are reincarnated after we die. Therefore, anyone who believes in heaven or hell is wrong. That position makes Hinduism exclusive. Every time you open your mouth to say what you believe, you are being exclusive. Every time you say something is “true,” it means everything opposed to what you just said is false. You are being exclusive.

I came across an article written by Dr. Steve McSwain (I hesitate to offer the link because it’s pure heresy, but here it is: https://bit.ly/2SvOb5A). I don’t know who Steve McSwain is, and I have no clue what field of study gave him a doctorate, but it’s clear that his method of Bible study is flawed, and he approaches the truth of Scripture from an agenda-laden position. His byline says he’s a “counselor to congregations” and a “spiritual teacher.” I’m not sure what spirit motivates his teaching, but it’s not God’s Spirit.

Here’s part of his reflective comments on John 14:6 and the exclusivity of the Gospel: 

Jesus said “I am the way…no one comes to God but through me” (John 14:6). But what does that really mean?…Today, I realize that what Jesus was really saying is this: “I am the way,” as in, “I know the way.” “I’ve discovered it” which, by implication means, “you can, too.” Elsewhere, he put it like this: “I and the Father are one” and he prayed that we would discover the same as well (John 17). Which is precisely why he said continually, “Follow me.” In other words, it’s as if Jesus was saying, “If you believe anything, believe not WORDS but the WAY to Life itself. My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal. In fact, you cannot separate the way to God from God herself. The way to God IS God.”

For starters, Mr. McSwain (as if he’s going to read this blog), Jesus did NOT say “I know the way.” You can’t change Scripture. You can’t make it say something you want it to say or prefer it to say or something that’s more politically correct in our culture. Jesus said, “I myself am the way. No one comes to the Father if not through me.” No matter how you analyze that passage, if you are honest with yourself and use proper biblical interpretation, Jesus said He is the ONLY way to salvation. It doesn’t really take too much analysis or interpretation to see the cold facts staring you in the face. You can call Jesus a liar if you want to, but you can’t say Jesus was really saying “I know the way.” He said, “I am THE way.”

If I made an exclusive statement, you could debate it and reject it. After all, who am I to make an exclusive statement about much of anything. I’m flawed and my perspective is limited. Jesus, however, claimed to be God. If Jesus is God, then He has every right to create a salvation plan that offers only one path: Himself.Mr. McSwain said, “My way, like many other ways, will guide you into the Eternal.” My first thought was that this statement is also totally flawed. It is flawed from the way he was trying to project it, but in the end, he’s actually right. Jesus’ way will lead to eternal life. The “many other ways” he’s writing about will also lead into the eternal, eternal damnation. I didn’t say that. Jesus did.

Soul Danger

I’m very disturbed. Last Thursday I watched part of the Judge Kavanaugh/Dr. Christine Ford hearing, and the more I watched, the angrier and more discouraged I became. Over the last few years, I’ve watched the soul of America unraveling, and I’m concerned that we’re getting close to the point of no return. Regardless of your political persuasion, I hope that you share my concern. This concern is not as much about Kavanaugh, Ford, Trump, or Feinstein as it is about the not so slow deterioration of honesty, virtue, righteousness, and integrity. The fact that in order to confirm or not confirm a Supreme Court justice we have to stoop to such shameful measures and tactics is truly a disgrace to the nation and offers a peek into the rotting condition of our national soul. We have come to a place where ideology is more important than truth and the means seem totally justified regardless of the end, as long as the end supports one’s political or philosophical purposes.

Here’s an opinion statement: I don’t think the uproar over Kavanaugh is as much about the judge or even the position as it is about philosophy or even theology. Politicians on all sides have agendas, and it seems that people are willing to go to any extreme to accomplish those agendas. If there is something deeply wrong with Kavanaugh’s character, then he needs to be disqualified. If not, then he needs to be confirmed. I personally think the battle is mainly over issues like abortion and same-sex marriages. I do not believe that abortion or same-sex marriage are political issues. They are spiritual issues. I don’t know Kavanaugh and therefore I don’t know if he is a Christian. However, I feel as if a great spiritual battle between the heavenlies is being waged before our eyes. Over the years, we have passed some laws that blatantly contradict the teaching of Scripture. Whether Kavanaugh should be on the court or not is to be seen, but I think the real battle is for the soul of America.

I don’t see myself as a Democrat or Republican. I vote for the person who best represents the truth of God’s Word. I agree strongly with Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace for any people.” Because righteousness is defined by laws, and the Supreme Court is the final law of our land, we should not be surprised to see the intensity of the battle for who will control this court. Because unrighteousness destroys a nation, I believe the hosts of hell are lined up trying to figure out how to lead our country farther away from the truth upon which this country was built. If you believe the Word of God, then I encourage you to pray for our political leaders that they will pass laws and our judicial leaders that they will uphold laws and the Constitution in such a way that we as a people are walking in righteousness. This means we should pray for God’s intervention and leadership, and we should vote to put people in office who will help us to be a righteous people. We have a lot at stake. If we slide far enough down the slippery slope of unrighteousness and disobedience, it will be very difficult for us to come back.